Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

UC San Diego Health was the first provider in San Diego to offer transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for individuals with treatment-resistant depression.

We have one of the largest and most advanced TMS clinics in the region. Our physicians continue to be at the forefront of innovation for targeted, personalized mental health care.

What Is TMS Therapy?

TMS is a noninvasive technological breakthrough therapy that involves applying a series of short magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in surface areas of the brain and ease symptoms of hard-to-treat depression.

This medication-free treatment for depression is also called repetitive TMS (rTMS) because hundreds or thousands of short magnetic pulses are delivered in one session. It’s performed in an office and doesn’t require sedation or surgery.

TMS is part of the novel treatments for mental health disorders offered by interventional psychiatry, a newer field of psychiatry.

How Does TMS Help With Depression?

With TMS, the magnetic pulses induce small electric currents that change the firing patterns of neurons, altering dysfunctional brain patterns associated with depression. 

In simple terms, TMS stimulates and resets specific areas of the brain that regulate your mood to provide relief and break the cycle of depression.

What Are the Advantages of TMS?

: TMS has been shown to be at least twice as effective as standard treatments for treating depression when antidepressant medications and talk therapy haven’t worked.

Safe: All our treatment protocols are FDA-approved and follow the highest standards of safety. TMS is very well tolerated with few side effects.

Targeted: TMS is applied to areas of the brain that appear to be different in people with depression. Many patients appreciate not having the side effects of antidepressant medications, too.

Personalized: Treatment is individualized to your brain and can be modified based on your particular response.

Who Can Benefit From TMS?

We currently offer TMS to adult patients (ages 18 and up) who have not responded to standard treatments for major depression. These people have what is called treatment-resistant depression (TRD). If you are interested in TMS, you can meet with one of our clinicians to carefully review your medical history, current symptoms and past treatments.

To be eligible for TMS treatment, you must not have:

  • Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
  • Any metal implants in the skull

How Likely Is It That TMS Will Work for Me?

Every person responds to treatment differently. About one-third to one-half of people become symptom-free following TMS treatment, however. Others may experience an improvement in mood and then find that antidepressant medication, talk therapy and lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise) provide additional relief.

How Many TMS Treatment Sessions Do You Need to Feel Better?

In most cases, people feel better after 10 to 15 treatment sessions, which equates to about 2 to 3 weeks of treatment. Some people experience improvement in just 1 to 2 weeks.

A typical course of treatment involves TMS sessions daily for 4 to 6 weeks. UC San Diego Health providers tailor your TMS treatment to maximize the effectiveness of your treatment.

How Long Do the Effects of TMS Last?

Our patients typically experience relief for 6 to 9 months after their last treatment session. Some individuals may feel benefits for years, while others return for additional treatments after a few months of well-being.

The therapeutic effects from TMS tend to last longer for individuals who follow appropriate medication and lifestyle choices that help to maintain an improved mood. Also, some individuals may benefit from a form of "maintenance" TMS for relapse prevention, which we offer in certain circumstances.

Does TMS Help With Anxiety, OCD and/or Bipolar Disorder?

The evidence is mixed for the usefulness of TMS for anxiety. While we don't offer TMS to treat primary anxiety disorders, we often see improvement in anxiety symptoms in patients who are experiencing both anxiety and depression.

TMS is effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and we offer TMS to treat OCD.

TMS is not FDA-approved for bipolar disorder. UC San Diego Health providers are currently conducting research in this area, and we offer other treatments for bipolar depression at our clinic.

What If TMS Doesn't Work for Me?

Our providers are deeply committed to helping you. There is always hope and a way forward with your care. If you don't respond to your first TMS treatment course, your doctor may recommend another type of TMS. We have several advanced TMS treatment options to help you feel better. If none of these helps, we can try other treatment modalities, including a noninvasive procedure called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and a nasal spray called esketamine.

Is TMS Safe?

Yes. The TMS therapies we use are FDA-approved, safe and well tolerated with no long-term side effects. Some people may experience involuntary eye blinking or facial muscle contraction during treatment. Others report minor headaches or mild pain at the stimulation site following treatment. These side effects usually go away within 24 hours.

Treatments with TMS

Our standard TMS services include:

  • MagVenture TMS Therapy
  • BrainsWay Deep TMS

Treatment is performed in an office and requires no anesthesia or sedation. Patients sit comfortably in a recliner and remain awake during the procedure. A typical treatment course consists of daily TMS sessions 5 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks. Each session lasts from 5 to 60 minutes depending on your specific protocol. You can return to normal daily life immediately after treatment.

TMS therapy may be combined with changes in prescribed medications, as well as other therapies.

TMS Theta Burst Stimulation

In addition to standard TMS treatment, we also offer a type of TMS called theta burst stimulation (TBS). TBS is an innovative form of brain stimulation that closely mimics natural brain rhythms. Treatment involves applying short bursts of magnetic stimulation, delivered at high frequencies. TBS produces lasting changes in brain activity, takes less time than standard TMS, and is as effective as standard TMS.

Does Insurance Cover TMS for Depression?

Many insurance plans in the U.S. cover TMS treatment for major depressive disorder. You should still check with your health insurance company to make sure. Ask for your plan eligibility and benefits (EOB) for TMS.

Research & Clinical Trials

Innovations in Treatments for Psychiatric Disorders

UC San Diego Health is leading innovations in treatments for psychiatric disorders. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial or research study, talk to your UC San Diego Health provider.


Emergency Help Available 24/7

For a mental health emergency, call 988 or go to the nearest emergency room. 988 is the national suicide and crisis hotline. You can also call the San Diego Crisis Line at 888-724-7240 for confidential, free support.

UC San Diego Health Emergency Departments